It is still difficult for people with different functioning disabilities to find work because of both environmental accessibility and societal prejudices.
“I have a disability, first group, vision diagnosis – complete blindness. I can only see light and I can only tell night from day,” Anna Dubovika said. She has been blind since birth. Latvian Radio met with her at the library for the blind.
Dubovika has higher education, and she plays the piano and flute. She is currently looking for a job and wants to teach individual or small group lessons in music, but finding a job last year failed because the labor market is unavailable for people with complete visual disabilities.
Dubovika said: "My first education is music teacher and the other one I'm learning right now is social rehabilitation. I am studying at the University of Latvia's College of Medicine, but not just because I would like to work in rehabilitation, but so that if I find work in a nursing institution, I have the documents and the right to work in such institutions."
Dubovika also has working experience in Braille translation at various workplaces where the environment has been adapted. But in her job search, she has no shortage of unpleasant situations.
"There have been such negative job interviews so far. [..] I am, of course, aware that I cannot work with a group of 30 children/ [..] Answers were courtesy phrases “we'll call you” or “we can't, how will you fill out a class journal”. One school where I said I was also assisted by an assistant to go to school and back or between classes, they realized they had to pay for it and they couldn't afford it, but I explained that the local government was already doing it, not the employer. I tried in nursery schools too, and there were clear answers: no.
"It was all polite, just answers that the children wouldn't take me seriously or laugh, but it is not so. Children are very open, but prejudices are more common in parents," said Dubovika.
Without the attitudes of employers and stereotypes of society, the blind are also confronted with the lack of equipment needed in the workplace, such as screen reader software. Similarly, on the State Employment Agency page, it is not possible to view job offers without the help of a sighted person, according to Dubovika.
“The stereotype that we can only work for the blind association. But I want to change something. I also went to study to reduce that depressive feeling and to change the environment. Yeah, we can't do everything, we can't drive a car and we can't be astronauts, either, but I'll say we can a lot,” Dubovika noted.
Georgijs Lavrovs has also been living with disability for the last seven years due to heart disease. He said: “The pension of the disabled is not very great, and then I try to work, not only for money, but I'm tired of sitting at home. Well, I repair, clean and everything, but I want to go out.”
Lavrovs had previously worked at the factory 'VEF' before he was ill, but in recent years he had been a security guard in various places. The job with his diagnosis has become difficult to do, because he can't work at night or stand for long. Now Lavrovs has applied as a phone operator in a couple of companies. He concluded that the labor market was not particularly open to older people with disabilities.
“Employers are willing to give a job, but when they find out the age, then they say we'll call you. Because I do not, for example, type as fast as others,” Lavrovs said.
Asked if there is any attitude also when people learn about the disability, Lavrovs said: “Yes, especially now, because they also think they can get unwell in the workplace and have some sort of responsibility and fear for the employer. But you have to give a person a chance to try the job for two, three months, so that they show what they can do.”
On the other hand, the pedagogy student Anna Kenne, who has lived with cerebral palsy since birth, said that, in order to be able to participate in the labor market at all, educational opportunities in general education schools are essential for people with reduced mobility.
“No one really wants a child like that. My school was next to the house, and they didn't want to take me because of my diagnosis, but my mom was struggling to get me to study right there, and it was very difficult. I graduated from the general school and I am very grateful to my parents because if I were put in a special school I could not live as a normal person now. Latvia still needs to grow very much for such people,” Kenne said.
The State Employment Agency currently registers a total of more than 7,000 unemployed persons with disabilities, representing nearly 14% of the total number of unemployed people. The number of these jobseekers has fallen by a thousand over the last five years, but the share of the total unemployment statistics has increased.
New aid for employers is available directly for counseling and adapting the workplace to the disabled. This month, the State Employment Agency also calls on employers to apply for free advice on various issues relating to the employment of people with disabilities.
Meanwhile, the head of the association of disabled people and their friends Apeirons, Ivars Balodis, estimated that Latvia is currently working on short-term solutions for employing people with functional or mental disabilities.
Balodis explained: “There are many support programs provided by the State, such as subsidized employment, but also foreign experts have indicated that it does not provide them with the long-term effect that people actually work for a long time and find their lives fulfilled in a given company. And statistics also show that the largest number of people with disabilities employed is in the third group, where the disability is less pronounced or complicated. For example, for people with intellectual developmental disabilities who often have the first group, the number of employees is extremely small."
Balodis also concluded that society and employers are becoming more understanding towards people with reduced mobility, but there are more prejudices against people with hearing or visual impairments because of the limitations of communication.
“We do not have a national support program, such as parenting staff, that would be an intermediary between this person and the employer to help a person stay in work so that the employer would not be burdened. We are missing it, but in Western Europe these programs are in place and there are also employed people with intellectual disabilities who are taught specific things and who do them wonderfully,” said Balodis.
Apeirons said that the number of people with disabilities is increasing overall, which is likely to increase the number of these unemployed people in the future. Moreover, job opportunities, along with disability benefits, have become more urgent this autumn with the energy crisis and rising food prices.